A U.S. airline transporting suitcases full of millions of rand for the South African government was grounded in Zimbabwe after blood dripping from the aircraft led the captain to a dead body hidden inside, IBTimes reported.
The crew at first attributed the blood to the plane hitting a bird, one source said, according to the DailyMail. The American captain put on latex gloves, opened the hatch, and a body fell out, witnesses said.
The dead body was suspended in the plane, Zimbabwe Herald reported. The unidentified man was of “African” appearance and had burns on his head, a source told MailOnline.
The cargo plane, owned by Florida-based Western Global Airlines, was chartered by the South African government. It was en route from Munich to Durban when it stopped at Harare International Airport to refuel. It was impounded by Zimbabwean aviation authorities when the body was discovered.
The cargo on the plane belonged to the South African Reserve Bank, BBC reported.
The plane was carrying a “diplomatic consignment,” DailyMail reported. The South African ambassador spent most of Sunday at the airport. Whereabouts of the crew — two Americans, a South African and a Pakistani — are uncomfirmed.
The captain had originally asked to stop in Mozambique but was turned down, so he turned to neighboring Zimbabwe, according to DailyMail.
“The body is presumed to be a stowaway who may have entered the aeroplane during a previous stop,” Western Global Airlines said in a prepared statement. The plane had previously been in Uganda, Nigeria and Belgium.
Western Global Airlines described the plane as a Boeing MD-11 freighter aircraft leased to Network Airline Management, a long-time customer based in the U.K. “The shipment consignee was the South African Reserve Bank,” the statement said.
The airline declined to say if the aircraft’s crew had been arrested.
“The police are now handling the issue and the plane…has been grounded at Harare International Airport since Sunday,” said David Chawota, CEO of the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority, according to BusinessDayLive.
Western Global Airlines does business in 44 countries and claims to be one of the world’s largest commercial cargo transportation services. It is privately owned by James and Sunny Neff, and its fleet is used by UPS and FedEx. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it flew dozens of relief missions.
“Western Global’s aircraft fly for Network Airline Management from Europe to Africa several times a week on a regular basis,” the airline said. “Western Global provides the aircraft and crew and Network Airline Management provides the cargo, loading and unloading, and ground security as required.”
The last time Zimbabwean civil aviation authorities impounded a foreign plane was in 2004. They arrested a planeload of 64 mercenaries headed to a coup in Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe Herald reported.